Sunday, January 31, 2010

Las Vegas Jailhouse: It's no Sin City Law

The onetime flood of Las Vegas-based reality shows has slowed in the last few years; the biggest recent reality show from Vegas is the decidedly low-key (and seriously boring) Pawn Stars, about three generations of a pawn shop-owning family. But dopey sensationalism returns with Las Vegas Jailhouse, a glib reality series from the producers of Cops, which resolutely follows that show's "criminals are dumbasses" approach. We're invited to laugh at clueless prostitutes, drug addicts and petty thieves, and while the crimes are admittedly minor, the show offers nothing but a cartoonish portrayal of crime and law enforcement, although it tries to engender a bit of empathy with some of the officers and more stable inmates.

This week I also finally got around to watching a screener of the last two episodes of the excellent Sundance Channel documentary series Sin City Law, which aired last February (I reviewed the 2007 first season for Las Vegas Weekly). Law is the complete opposite of Jailhouse, spending two hourlong episodes on each of its cases, delving deeply into the backgrounds and motivations of both criminals and victims, and spending equal time with lawyers from both sides of each case. Granted, the show takes on subjects far more serious than puppy theft and attempted prostitution; these particular episodes follow the heartbreaking case of a woman facing first-degree murder charges for allowing her boyfriend to beat her 3-year-old daughter to death. Law shows how even when justice appears to be served, it's often hard to claim that anybody has prevailed. Jailhouse just points and jeers.

Las Vegas Jailhouse premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on Tru TV.

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